It was a big deal. A senior class of 171 students traveling en masse by school bus to visit the nation’s capital. Washington D.C. There were the jocks, the freaks, the brainiacs. Every aspect of high school society was represented and herded into five county buses for the two hour drive North to tour the wonders of the greatest museums of the greatest country in the world.
As silly as it sounds today, in a world of reliable cars and four-lane interstate highways, not all of the students had been to Washington before. In the fertile farmlands of the Shenandoah Valley, all life revolved within a 25-mile radius. As excited students loaded into the buses, classmate Chuck arrived, dressed in his Sunday-go-to-meeting clothes. He was 18-years-old and had never ventured outside of the county in which he was born.
Not everyone was as pure as Chuck. There were rumours of ‘special’ brownies floating between the bus seats. The outside world of marijuana and other drugs hadn’t yet tarnished the Simply Life, but was slowly making its presence known.
For the purpose of today’s story, the focus will be on the last four rows of seats at the back of bus #38.
They were a clique of a dozen or so, all friends since childhood. Extroverts for the most part, your typical ‘popular’ students. They were all students with above-average grades in school, and visiting the Museum of Natural History might seem tempting for a moment, but this was a day for fun.
Mrs. Garman had warned the entire class. Any student caught misbehaving during this trip would face a possible suspension from school and/or a potential painfully-slow death. Or even worse, their parents would be informed of their infraction and the parent would choose the punishment.
With this in mind, the group of friends fell into sheep formation alongside their fellow classmates and toured through the museums of American History and Air and Space.
But they could take it no longer. In an involuntary spasm of adolescent behavior, they snapped.
It started in the American Art Museum. If a sheep spots a natural predator and heads away from danger, the entire herd will follow. Quorum Response. So Patti Ann, Steph and a few other clique members began their own little research project to test humans on their quorum-like responses.
And the human test subjects fell in-line like a herd of sheep. Standing in a room full of beautiful artwork, the friends stared up at a blank section of wall near the ceiling and pointed.
“Hey, what in heck is that?”
“I don’t know. What in the heck Is that?”
With goofy, confused looks on their faces, they stood and pointed and commented. And the silly experiment produced results. Visitors from the U.S. and around the world stopped or slowed their pace just long enough to glance up at that bare space on the wall and wonder for a moment.
That had worked so well, the gang took their juvenile show out onto the sidewalk in front of the museum. Ellen then “lost” a contact lense that didn’t exist. The friends formed a small circle as they frantically looked for something that wasn’t there. Once again, pedestrians stopped or slowed, and several offered to join the search. Finally Ellen “found” the “lost” contact lense. It was almost lunchtime and off to the cafeteria they all went for a plate of energy.
Except for John and Ray. Having spent many a weekend with his Grandmother who lived there in D.C., Ray had a comfortable sense of direction in regards to the nearby neighborhoods. So, off they went, leaving the herd in a search for a lunch not served in a cafeteria.
After walking several blocks like they knew where they were going, they came across a small bistro that seemed to fill their needs.
“What can I get you guys to drink?”
“Is the Heineken on tap or just bottled? We’ll have two bottles then, thank you.”
“And two club sandwiches. We’re in a bit of a hurry.”
The bistro had red picnic-type tablecloths and a mahogany bar with brass fixtures. The sandwiches were cut into fours, held together with colorful frill picks. Jazz music mellowed the atmosphere as the second round of Heinekens arrived.
When they caught-up with the other 169 classmates, who were congregating out front of the American Art building, they couldn’t help but notice a general consensus amongst everyone’s lunch. Apparently the cheeseburgers resembled cardboard and the french fries were cold.
Duane whispered in Ray’s ear.
“Hey, where’d you guys go? Did you eat lunch?”
“Yea Dude! We had beers and club sandwiches! What’d you have?!”
As the afternoon wore on and the yawns began to appear, the group managed its way through the Botanical Gardens building. The tallest member of their group was Thomas, standing six-foot-four, maybe five. He was appropriately nicknamed “Lurch”, being so tall and thin. And Lurch had a sense of humor as big as the space that he commanded.
Breaking the trance that had silenced his peers, Lurch suddenly climbed amongst the equally tall trees of an actual display and struck a pose. Standing like a wax museum figure, he remained perfectly still between the ferns and ficus as visitors passed him by.
“Mommy, why is that man standing in the trees?”
“Ah, Suzie…that’s…that’s just part of the display? Let’s go.”
Later in the afternoon, as the school buses lumbered towards home, a collective silence of fatigue seemed to quiet the entire class of students. But occasionally, someone at the back of bus #38 would speak and chuckle with their eyes still closed.
“Hey, Lurch. Where’s Eve?”
And the laughs would start again for a moment.
“You should have seen the look on that little girl’s face!”
“I liked that one guy taking pictures of ya!”
And the chuckles turned back into muffled snorts and quiet giggles.
Ah, I tell you. What I wouldn’t give…